Rabies in England
A 900 word piece about being bitten by a Peruvian dog.
Rabies in England
It was the last day of a trip through Peru. Cuzco, the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, a 4 day trek to Machu Picchu, we’d had a great experience. And now I was strolling towards the cliffs in Lima to take a final look at the Pacific. In front of me was a small pack of dogs. I was still on a main street at the time so I could have crossed the road and avoided them. But being the stubborn type I thought, why should I make a special journey just for some dogs? So I walked through them. The largest one allowed me to pass and then bit me at the top of my right thigh. When I got back to the hotel I realised that it was more of a graze than a bite though the skin had been broken.
We had a German doctor in the group. He was horrified. Much of Europe was well used to the possible end result of a dog bite.
‘You must see a doctor now,‘ he said. ‘You must get the rabies vaccine.’
‘I can’t now,’ I said. ‘We’re packing up to get on a plane.’
His face was white. I could see he was extremely troubled.
‘You must have vaccine immediately you arrive in England. You must get to a doctor.’
‘We don’t have rabies in England,’ I said.
In fact, though I knew rabies was normally fatal, I really didn’t know how long I’d got before treatment was essential. In any case, what was the chance the dog had rabies? It looked an ordinary dog and was just a bit uppity about someone walking through its pack. But no matter how I thought it through, I knew the chances of being infected were not zero.
I didn’t bother to unpack when I got home. I drove straight to the nearest A&E.
‘I’ve been bitten by a dog.’ I said to the nurse as I got to the desk.
‘Oh, that’s a shame. Whereabouts?’
‘Oh my goodness. How long ago?’
‘About 24 hours, possibly a bit longer.’
‘Get to the doctor immediately. As soon as he’s free, go in.’
The doctor looked as troubled as the German had.
‘I’ve never treated rabies,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry but you may be too late.’
I think it was at this point that the situation first hit me hard. Here was the good ol’ NHS telling me that I may well die.
‘What happens now?’ I asked.
‘To be perfectly frank, I don’t know but I know someone who might.’
He phoned a colleague in London, gave a brief explanation, breathed a few ‘right’s and ‘ok’s and put the phone down.
‘You must have a course of injections. There is a pack made up specially for it. There’s none in this hospital. They’re rare. We don’t have rabies in England.’
‘There’s got to be a pack somewhere,’ I said. I was beginning to feel a bit desperate.
‘Yes, apparently the nearest one is in Guildford. But I can’t go to Guildford. I’ve got a roomful of people out there to see.’
‘Listen. I’m the one who’s going to die. I’ll go to Guildford. ‘
He phoned Guildford. Yes they had a pack. If I see the man at the gate they’ll make sure the pack is ready.
It was a strange journey down the A3, concentrating on driving and on the prospect that this might be the last time. But Guildford did their bit. As I drove through the entrance and stopped the car the security guard ran out of his office and handed me the pack.
Back at A&E, I got ushered in to the doctor, once again ahead of everyone else. It had now been a further two hours since I’d first arrived and I had no idea how important that was. The doctor opened the pack and stared at its contents as though he was about to build a flat pack table. With the manual in one hand and a syringe in the other he injected half the rich purple fluid at the site of the wound and the other half at the furthest point away, in the top of my arm. He turned to page two.
‘You must have further injections at fixed intervals, that’s 2, 4, 8, 16 days apart. No need to come here. I’ll repack it for you and you can take it home and keep it in your fridge. I must say it’s a lovely colour. The nurse at your GP surgery can handle it.’ He shook my hand. ‘Lots of luck.’
The nurse was most interested in my story.
‘We don’t have rabies in England,’ she said.
‘I know, I know.’
She opened the box. ‘Oh what a lovely colour.’
I thoughts its efficacy in keeping me alive was a bit more important but I said nothing. Things were going well, I didn’t feel ill and over the days and weeks I became sure that that damn dog on the streets of Lima was no more than a lively animal who’d felt threatened by my intrusion, not to say stupidity.
Personally I prefer cats.